ellie_nors: (fuck this shit)
I used to think I was one of those few, lucky women who had never been sexually assaulted. In fact, I think I believed it until a couple of months ago. And until I read this piece [WARNING: sexual assault and rape] on Medium last night, I thought it had only happened once.

I couldn't get to sleep last night, thinking about it, and during the day today, more incidents have come to mind. And the thing that bothers me most about it is not what you might think.

N.B. I have made this post public in case reading it is helpful for anyone dealing with similar issues. All comments will be screened. I have first, final, and only say over which comments are posted and which are deleted.

The following is a recounting of all the incidents that are bothering me. They are none of them overtly violent or dangerous. They may nevertheless be disturbing or triggering to you depending upon your own life experiences. Please take care of yourself in choosing whether or not to read the following.

When I was 15, I went to my first disco. I loved dancing. That was my interest in being there. But it was near the end of autumn term, so there was mistletoe around. At one point, my 'friends' shoved me towards a boy, who put his arms around me and shoved his tongue in my mouth. It was my first kiss. I complied; I did not consent. I spent the next half hour in the bathroom washing my mouth out, feeling disgusted and disgusting.

The summer I was about to be 16, I spent some days with my father at his and his girlfriend's house in Warwick. I'd had a lot of fun breaking up the old floors in the kitchen with a sledgehammer the year before. By that point, they had a lodger, a student. He was about 21 or 22. The lodger and I were alone in the front room. He was sitting on the floor. He asked me to walk over to him; I did. He asked me to sit down with him; I did. I complied; I did not consent. I felt weird in my skin, uncomfortable. He was about to kiss me, when he heard my father coming back, and suddenly we were standing up and at different sides of the room.

When I was 17, I went to my first SF convention: Worldcon, in Brighton. I went with a friend. At the masqued ball, I wore a bright green ball gown that covered everything but my arms and the top of my chest, and a red mask shaped like a swallow in flight. The effect was, apparently, quite impressive on my slight frame. At four in the morning, I, my friend, her boyfriend, and a random man who'd tagged along with us ended up in a hotel room together. The man, who must have been in his late 30s, pulled me into his lap, pressed his hands at my waist and attempted to kiss me. I sat still and rigid, my lips pressed tight together. I complied; I did not consent. Eventually my friend noticed how uncomfortable I was and suggested we go. I gladly agreed. We left.

When I was 18, I had a boyfriend for the first time, and had sex for the first time. Generally, our sex was fully consenting, if lacking in skill and knowledge, on both sides. One time though, we were lying in bed together. I was suffering from depression and associated low libido at the time, brought on by the contraceptive pill and a few bouts of thrush and cystitis. We'd had sex earlier, and probably would again later. Out of nowhere, he turned towards me, partially undressed me, and started fucking me. I complied; I did not consent. Immediately afterwards, when he'd come, he realised what he'd done, and apologised, feeling awful. I felt nothing in particular.

Later that year, after we'd broken up, I was at a party in someone's house. I was sitting in one of the rooms chatting with a male friend/acquaintance who attended the same pubs and clubs as I did. I was friendly with his girlfriend. We were both drunk. He started kissing me. I thought it was a bit weird and I wasn't happy with it, but it was just a kiss, right? No harm in it. We ended up lying down, with his finger in my vagina. I said that that was a bad idea; I got thrush really easily. He said not to be silly. I complied; I did not consent. I didn't want it. I didn't like it. But I didn't think much of it at the time.

When I was 19, I went to university, where there were a lot of parties, a lot of alcohol, and a lot of dope. (I'm sure there was a lot of coke, too, but I never saw it.) I think it was late winter or early spring. I went to a house party, then with some friends to their house for more relaxed drinking, smoking and music listening. Gradually, they all left. I was alone with a man a few years older than me, who I vaguely knew, and who I trusted by association. We carried on chatting, listening to music, drinking, smoking. I was so drunk and stoned that, when I went to the toilet, I vomited -- a first for me. I went back downstairs, and finally realised how late it was, and wondered how I was going to get back up the road the 2 miles to my own room.
    He offered me space in his bed. I didn't think anything of it; I'd shared beds with friends and acquaintances after house parties, in all innocence and just for sleep, for several years at that point. It was a normal occurrence for me. Apparently not so for him. I was just falling asleep when I felt his hand rubbing on my hip, over my boxers. He took me by the shoulder and turned me over. We had sex. I complied; I did not consent. I'm sure to him it was beautiful love-making. All I can remember thinking at the time was, "I just want to sleep. I hope this is over soon."
    In the morning, we showered together, which left me feeling claustrophobic and nauseous. I started saying to him that I don't normally do one-night stands, but I didn't want to do anything with him again. He interrupted me at the first part of the sentence and took it as me saying I wanted a relationship. I was tired and I wanted to get out of there, so I didn't correct him. I just left.
    Then I was confused for a while. I was still coming to terms with my identity as bisexual, and part of that involved grappling with stereotypes. One of the stereotypes that had really grabbed hold of me was that being bisexual meant that I must be equally attracted to women and men, and that I must therefore be attracted to everyone, and if I wasn't there was something wrong with me. So, rather than thinking it through and realising I'd been raped, I thought it through and concluded I should have enjoyed it and should want to see him again.
    Combined with the stress of being fully responsible for myself for the first time, the pressure of coursework (which, being Cambridge, was intense), and a deep bout of depression, I made a decision that I never should have made. I chose to hang out with him, to have sex with him, to have a relationship with him, in exchange for the safety of a bolthole and an escape, a place of relief from pressure. For two and a half years, I was a sex worker, although I didn't realise it at the time.

When I was 27, within a genuinely loving relationship, as part of sex that was up to that point fully consensual, my partner started doing something I didn't like, didn't want, and was unpleasantly painful for me. Rather than saying anything, I let it happen. I complied; I did not consent.

I am a feminist, and always have been, yet in none of these cases -- none of them -- did it ever occur to me that I could say "Stop" or "No". The thought simply never entered my head. The most that I ever did was attempt to negotiate, either with the assailant, or with myself.

That is what is so disturbing to me: that the idea that I could have any control over what was happening to my own body, that I had any rights over what was happening to my body, was not even part of my world. That those people chose to assault me, whether or not they believed that was what they were doing at the time, is a tiny, insignificant detail next to that fact.

The idea that I have absolute rights and first and final say over what happens to my body is still difficult for me to grasp, deep down, even though it is one I have consciously espoused for all of my adolescent and adult life. I have to pause, think, deliberately choose it. And that is seriously fucked.

I want to be clear: I do not believe this is a personal failing. I know it is a direct result of a culture so steeped in misogyny, so deeply rooted in patriarchy, that a middle-aged, feminist woman can go her whole life without realising that her bodily autonomy is a right, not a vague possibility that needs case by case negotiation.

Perhaps it is a result of the freeze response to threat; perhaps it is a result of a more generalised dissociation due to childhood trauma; perhaps it is a part of how women keep ourselves alive by playing nice with our harrassers and assailants. All I know right now is that it is seriously fucked, and I need to make it stop.

A final example, with some hope.

Just a couple of months ago, as part of a kink negotiation between my partner and another woman, the other woman's play partner kept asking me, "I'm really interested in the deal between us," clearly meaning, was he going to get to have sex with me? It was equally clear that I was deeply uncomfortable by his implied question. I prevaricated, mentioned how I only really have sex with queer men, etc., but I didn't say straight out, "Nothing sexual is going to happen between us," -- in part because he hadn't actually asked a direct question, but also in part because it did not occur to me that "No," was in my range of possible responses.
    Later that evening, I did say no, in plain language, in an FB message to him, and also explained about how important clear and direct communication about desires and boundaries is, in order to ensure that everything is safe and consensual for all parties, in a group message including my partner and his play partner. He took deep umbridge. Clearly him getting to have sex with the women he wants and protecting his fragile ego was more important to him than listening, and ensuring safety and consent for all, and I have ignored him since, accordingly.

So I am making some progress, and I celebrate myself for that. But simply realising how deeply embedded this is within me is so, so tiring.
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